Dear Lorenzo Komboa Ervin:
It has been an eventful and exciting life that we have lived. Was it all real, you recently asked? I wondered the same. But then I found the archive location of our prison writings at the University of Missouri- St. Louis, Northeastern University, and Swarthmore College Peace Collection. Particularly, you might be interested in some boxes at Swarthmore: Box 33 Lorenzo Ervin [2 folders] and Box 34 Lorenzo Ervin [3 folders]. In addition, Box 35 contains records of Eddie Griffin.
I wish that I could go back in time and do a rewrite of my prison writings, and correct and update all the files. But the record is what it is. It was written with all truthfulness and sincere at heart.
When I wrote about Hiller “Red” Hayes in “Breaking Men’s Minds”, I was begging on behalf of a dying man that someone listen to his story. He had been locked up in solitary confinement for 13 straight years, half of which was inside a dungeon called the Control Unit. When I described him in my early prison writings, readers in the outside world appealed to the International Red Cross.
Like a dead man walking the cold concrete floor inside a prison cell block, buried at eye-level beneath the earth, he walked like a ghost in search of telling some one, any one, how he died. He looked at me and through me as if I wasn’t there, then turned and stared into outer space, and began to talk.
“I am the boogey man in the system,” he began. “Always, there is someone they lock up, designated never to see the light of day again.”
His faded red hair crackled like sandpaper whenever he raked his rough course fingers across his head. His skin was dry and pale as the desert sand. His back was cover with giant ringworms of bedsores, raw and red.
He talked like a man possessed of psychotic spirits, like a delusional man, coming out of a twilight world of drugs. He has been one of the first government experimental prison subjects to test a new drug in the 1950s called Valium. After his release, his drug supply was suddenly cut off, and he suffered a “white out”. He woke up in the federal prison hospital at Springfield, next door to a dying Bird Man of Alcatraz, Robert Stroud, who died on the even of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, November 21, 1963.
Birdman was a hard luck case. Locked up in 1909, during the rough-and-tumble heydays of the Alaska frontier where he killed a man. Clearly, it was in self defense, but he was sent to prison anyway, where he later killed a prison guard and was given the death penalty. Finally, his death sentence commuted to life in the hole, never to see the light of day again, by President Woodrow Wilson.
The Birdman was the Boogey Man prior to Red Hayes.
He remembered becoming frustrated with the courts. So after years of solitary confinement, he had “a barbeque”. He piled all his law books and legal papers into the middle of the floor of his cell, and set it afire.
It was obvious he had given up hope. He never came out of his cell for recreation. All day, every day, he would just lie in bed and stare at the ceiling. I was the only human contact he had made in years.
“I’m dying,” he said. “I want you to tell my story.”
In “Breaking Men’s Minds” (1977), I wrote:
At the root of the Control Unit's behavior modification program, though, is indefinite confinement. This is perhaps the most difficult aspect of the Control Unit to communicate to the public. Yet a testament to this policy was a man named Hiller ‘Red’ Hayes. After thirteen years in solitary confinement (nearly six in the control unit), he became the ‘boogie man’ of the prison system - the living/ dying example of what can happen to any prisoner. The more he deteriorated in his own skeleton, the more prisoners could expect to wane in his likeness. He died in the unit in August, 1977.
The editor added the last sentence.
I would make a correction here in the Red Hayes story. The International Red Cross did help get Red Hayes released from the dungeon. Two days later, he died on the prison compound at Marion.
What has always intrigued me about the Hayes case was his crime. What did he do during that “white out” period? Thanks to the Internet, I discovered this story. The Tale of Hiller Arthur Hayes is an ironic as mine own.
That on or about the 5th day of June, 1960, Hiller Arthur Hayes and Vivian Darlene McCracken, the defendants, did knowingly transport and willfully cause to be transported, by automobile, in interstate commerce a person who had been unlawfully seized, confined, inveigled, decoyed, kidnapped, abducted, carried away and by defendants held, to wit, one Harry Robert Wilde, Jr., who was by said defendants transported from St. Louis County, in the State of Missouri, within the Eastern Division of the Eastern District of Missouri, to Monroe County, in the State of Illinois. 'In violation of Section 1201, Title 18, United States Code.'
In short, they tried to buy a car with a hot check. The manager secretly called the police. When a deputized female attempted to search Red’s girlfriend, Vivian pulls a gun and the cop reacts. Hayes disarms him cop and takes the cop and everybody else hostage. The chase lasted about an hour.
Hayes defended himself in court and was given 99 years in 1960. I met him in 1973. He died in 1977.
It is ironic that I went to prison in 1972, charged with bank robbery, kidnapping, and commandeering a police squad car. The chase lasted more than three hours before our capture by a lone Texas Ranger sharpshooter, named Tom Arnold. The state of Texas wanted to give us the death penalty. But the Supreme Court outlawed the death penalty before we went to court. I wound up with 50 years, ironically next door to the Boogey Man who committed virtually the same crime.
[This is one of the many stories in the Conversion of Eddie Griffin]